Ghettoes of the Mind: Khalid Anis Ansari on ‘minority status’ for Jamia Milia Islamia


Teri azaān mein nahin meri sahar ka payām. [Your call to prayer heralds not my dawn] – Allama Iqbal

A grab from the university's website

The recent judgment of the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions (NCMEI), favoring ‘minority status’ for Jamia Millia Islamia University, has generated vigorous debate. While it seems to me that most of the articulations have probably been reluctant in staging the immanent logics governing the entire controversy, I see this debate as offering yet another opening for democratic transformation within the Muslim community. While I will resist from taking a straightforward for/against position on the issue, it would be my endeavor to trace the discursive ruptures that instantiated the articulation around the ‘minority status’ for Jamia, and to indicate at the need to frame the Muslim ‘community’ now as a contested terrain with multiple sites of negotiations, cleavages and transformations.

Let me begin with a few reflections on the NCMEI judgment itself. There are three critical junctures in the institutional genealogy of Jamia that are pertinent to the argument here. First, when a few Muslim teachers of Jamia constituted a society and got it registered under the Societies Registration Act, 1860 as the Jamia Millia Islamia Society (henceforth Society) in 1939; second, when the UGC accorded Jamia the status of a deemed university in 1962; and third, when Jamia was accorded the status of a central university under the Jamia Millia Islamia Act, 1988 (henceforth Act). Now the onus on the petitioners was to prove that Jamia was ‘established’ and ‘administered’ (to be read conjunctively) by the minorities in order to declare it a ‘minority institution’ under Article 30 (1) of the Indian Constitution.

The NCMEI points out that the Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD) had sought a stay on the proceedings in the Jamia case, as their preference was to wait for the verdict of the Supreme Court on the AMU case which, in its view, had a bearing on the Jamia case as well. As we know in 1968 the Supreme Court had held that the AMU is not a minority institution as it was incorporated under the Act of the Central Legislature (Azeez Basha vs. Union of India AIR 1968 SC 662). Recently, AMU has re-agitated the matter in the Supreme Court. Despite the hesitation of the HRD ministry, the NCMEI went ahead with the proceedings on the Jamia case on the grounds that the Jamia case was significantly different from the AMU case. NCMEI’s argument for marking the difference is interesting. The judgment conveys to us that in the AMU case it was a college, the Mohammadan Anglo-Oriental College, when it was catapulted to the status of a university by the University Act, 1920 passed by the central legislature. Hence, the Supreme Court denied that AMU was established by minorities as it was constituted into a university by an act of parliament. The NCMEI thinks that the case of Jamia is different as: “On enactment of the Act (Jamia Millia Islamia Act, 1988), there was no conversion of an educational institution into a university as the Jamia as a university was already in existence prior to coming into force of the Act [NCMEI Judgment, p. 56]”. Prima facie it seems that the distinction between the AMU and the Jamia cases introduced in the judgment is not a very robust one. For the key dimension in both the cases is that the Societies established by the Muslim community to manage these institutes were dissolved (in the case of AMU in 1920 and in the case of Jamia in 1988) by acts of the parliament that elevated them to the status of central universities, and further that the text of both these Acts do not allude to any notion of these institutions being established and administered by the Muslim community. One may ask what difference does it make to the argument whether you convert a college into a central university or a deemed university into a central university if the texts of the Acts that constituted them are not forthright in suggesting that they were established and are managed by the Muslim community, the twin conditions necessary for deciding the ‘minority status’ of these institutions? Apparently, the distinction between the AMU and Jamia cases introduced by the NCMEI seems to be an impatient one in order to offset the stay on proceedings sought by the HRD ministry and to offer an opening for the matter to be considered by the NCMEI, constituted as recently as 2004.

Moreover, much has been made of the overlaps between the MoU of the Society and the Act to establish that Jamia was both ‘established’ and ‘administered’ by the Muslim community. ‘Thus, the basic statutes of Jamia as mentioned in the Act are almost in pari material with the provisions of the Memorandum of Association’, the NCMEI says [p. 45]. However, again there is no substantive discussion in the judgment on the critical exclusions from the Act. Because: it is precisely the statutes of the Society that had bearing on the question of ‘establishment’ and ‘administration’ that had not been carried in the Act. Besides, it is this anxiety, driven by the unsettled nature of the ‘minority character’ of Jamia, which is clearly reflected in the resolution of the Executive Council of Jamia in 1997. In this resolution a plea is made to amend the Act for the first time and include certain crucial parts of the MOU of the Society that were previously left out and which had a direct and favorable bearing on the question of establishment and administration of the institution by Muslims (Paradoxically, this meeting was presided over by Prof. Mushirul Hasan who was to later oppose the minority character in the capacity of the Vice Chancellor) [NCMEI, p. 47-48]. At this point it is useful to stress that 1997 marks the official emergence of the discourse of ‘minority status’ in Jamia since the Act of 1988.

The other arguments offered by NCMEI are affective and rhetorical in nature. Just to cite a few examples: ‘It is also relevant to mention that there is a mosque in the campus of Jamia’, ‘…since its foundation, the Jamia bears an emblem, which has a star on the right with the inscription “Allah-o-Akbar”, ‘On the bottom of the emblem, there is a small silver crescent with the inscription ‘Jamia Millia Islamia’ in Urdu”, and so on and so forth. [One may be tempted to respond on similar lines: every police station with a temple in India then becomes a ‘Hindu’ institution, any scribbling of Sanskrit in a building justifies its ‘Hindu character’, etc.]. While cutting short the discussion on NCMEI judgment one is left to wonder whether such narratives within the text of a judicial document also not foreground the ‘performative’ dimensions of the ‘court’ as a site, apart from the obviously normative stance one has been tutored to expect from it. Does this also not demonstrate that in reality no person or institution is totally immune to actual operations of power and location in society? Other questions remain. How much leverage does the NCMEI, being just a quasi-judicial organ of the State, has in upturning the positions in Jamia Act, 1988 passed by the Central Legislature? What effects will the judgment of Supreme Court on AMU, if it upholds the 1968 position, have on the Jamia case? How does one reconcile with this unprecedented situation where for the first time a Central University has also been granted the ‘minority status’? It seems there are a few critical questions that the judgment throws, ranging from concerns of popular sovereignty to merely technical concerns. While the deliberation on all these aspects of the judgment will continue in future, the discussion above was mainly intended to outline the context for arriving at the basic logic guiding this controversy.

I think it is crucial to read into the silence of the ‘Muslim’ community on this issue in the period 1988 (the constitution of the Jamia Act) to 1997 (when the aforementioned resolution was adopted). What was the discursive rupture that necessitated the emergence of this concern around the ‘minority character’ in 1997? One tentative suggestion could be that this discourse was in 1997 a response to the Indra Sawney (Mandal Judgment) by the Supreme Court in 1993 which made it mandatory for the Central Government institutions to reserve 27% seats in public sector jobs for the OBCs (incidentally, in addition to Hindu lower castes, about 80 Muslim lower caste groups, constituting more than 80% of total Muslim population in India, are also included in the Central OBC list). Jamia being a central university could not have escaped that. It is a commonplace that AMU and Jamia (as many other ‘Muslim’ institutions) are highly undemocratic and seldom focus on excellence in education or the welfare of the student community at large. Rather, they often act as employment generating factories for the relatives and near-ones of the hegemonic ‘Muslim’ families usually belonging to upper caste/class locations. Further, this unbridled control of the site of faculty and staff recruitment by the Muslim elite classes is the key to decode the highly undemocratic and feudal functioning of most of these institutions. And, it is precisely this control that was being interrogated by the OBC reservations in the case of Jamia and was a key motivation for the staging of the ‘minority status’ issue.

The controversy sparked off again in the wake of the Constitution (Ninety-third Amendment) Act, 2005 (Mandal II) adopted in January 2006 that laid clear the way for reservations for OBC students in higher education ‘other than the minority  educational institutions referred to in clause (1) of article 30’. Now it is important to stress that the 2006 amendment applied strictly to OBC students (including the majority of lower caste Muslim students). But the exemption of minority institutions from the granting of reservations to OBC students once again offered an opening to the Muslim elite classes in building a case for ‘minority character’ by projecting the anticipated depletion of Muslim students in the university. So when Mr. Najeeb Jung, the incumbent Jamia Vice Chancellor, lays down that ‘with the introduction of reservations for OBCs (Mandal II), the level of reservations in the university would go beyond 50% and therefore over time Muslim numbers will decline’ as one of the main reasons for the demand for minority character, he is apparently urging only a half-truth. Since the demand for minority status emerged way before Mandal II in 1997, as I have established above, one may suggest that what has been de facto driving the agitation since 2006 is the restoration of autonomy in deciding on staff/faculty appointments that was subverted by the 1993 Mandal judgment. The present fear of the dwindling number of Muslim students whipped up by the Jamia establishment, though factually relevant, is merely an anchoring point to achieve the same ends that were sought in 1997.  Quite clearly the NCMEI judgment has helped the Jamia establishment in achieving exactly that.

In short, what the genealogy of the entire controversy on the ‘minority character’ of Jamia also reveals is the uneasy relation of the Muslim elite classes in engaging with the question of caste as a key democratic question in the country today, both within and without the putative Muslim community. There is also visible discomfort with the forging of new horizontal caste-based solidarities that exceed the naturalised solidarities based on religious identity, which the Mandal moment inaugurated (and was an expression of) when it clubbed together both Muslim and Hindu lower castes as OBCs.  However, I also see these tensions as being productive in the long-run as they will open the gates for internal democratic reform within the Muslim community. Mr. Jung’s articulation takes cognisance of these developments when he remarks: “Better still, if Jamia could frame rules that part of that 50% reserved for Muslims becomes available to Muslim women and the backward Muslim community, it would manage a trifecta: pluralism, social justice and gender equality.” However, while agreeing with the spirit of this fragment, one may point out that the substance of pluralism, social justice and gender equality is of a contested nature in India today. ‘Which Muslim women?’ and ‘which backward Muslim community?’ are obvious questions that will be posed in times to come. Is the reference to lower caste/class Muslim women or elite Muslim women? Is he alluding to economically backward Muslims or socially and educationally backward lower caste Muslims? What data will be relied on to fix the quantum of sub-quotas? What implications does this move hold for the wider debate on affirmative action in India? I believe there are no ‘objective’ criteria to resolve these questions outside the hegemonic contestations in ‘the political’. These questions will be basically settled in the discursive battles and mass mobilizations in the democratic theatre in time.

However, as a gesture of sincerity it would have been appropriate for the Jamia establishment to have waited for some time before circulating notifications indicating change of rules in the University. It would have been extremely useful to have set up a relevant body, represented by all cross-sections of the community—lower castes, women, tribals, South Indian and North-Eastern Muslims, student leaders, clerics, community activists, academics, professionals, etc.—to look into the existing rules and evolve a model over a stipulated period. Apart from the obvious benefits of ‘internal dialogue’ that it would have initiated, this could have also provided a context to address the concerns of pluralism and social justice from multiple vantage points. The critical thing missing badly in the Muslim institutions is democracy and this is where a start could have been made through this judgment. I think that opportunity is still not lost and the Jamia establishment must consider this option seriously rather than offering knee-jerk reactions and celebrations over their perceived victory.

Now, I would quickly close by touching upon the two dominant frames that were employed to make sense of the Jamia issue in the recent articulations: one, the cosmopolitanism vs. ghetto argument, and two, the merit/excellence vs. reservations argument. Broadly, it seems that the Jamia issue cannot be adequately addressed within these frameworks. Firstly, what constitutes the ‘ghetto’ and the ‘mainstream’ is a debatable issue. As a rhetorical riposte can one conceive JNU as a ‘Marxist’ ghetto or BHU as a ‘Hindu’ ghetto? Is there some metaphysical merit in monopolizing the term only for ‘Muslim’ sites? What does openness mean and who can afford that openness? In a deeply identity-segregated and unequal society this is often a very insensitive frame to apply. Secondly, the Constitution has adopted a normative bias towards affirmative action (and other interventions) for weaker socio-economic and culturally insecure sections at the expense of a temporary compromise on the ideological notion of so-called ‘merit’. The argument on this is so well-rehearsed that I don’t even feel the inclination or need to go into that. Also, if Christian minority institutions can deliver quality education after reserving seats for candidates from the Christian community why can’t the Muslims do that? I think the clue to that is the undemocratic content of the community ‘managers’ (there are no leaders there!) and institutions and their being stuck in their own time-warps. In time the democratic pressures, it is hoped, will either shake them to do a rethink or to replace them with more worthy substitutes. More than the ghettoes within Muslims, I think it is the ‘universalist’ and ‘secularist’ ghettoes of the mind, informed by positions of privilege, that are more often the problem for the subaltern communities in India.

[Khalid Anis Ansari is with The Patna Collective, New Delhi. The views expressed are personal and are not necessarily shared by the organisation. He can be contacted at khalidanisansari at gmail dot com.]

17 thoughts on “Ghettoes of the Mind: Khalid Anis Ansari on ‘minority status’ for Jamia Milia Islamia”

  1. ‘Also, if Christian minority institutions can deliver quality education after reserving seats for candidates from the Christian community why can’t the Muslims do that?’

    The same is applicable to muslim institutions as there are many muslim institutions that have minority status and get financial support from govts, but there is no central university that has minority status.A university is much much bigger than a college.
    So it is not a question of yet another minority institution like college or school.AMU has been given so much money in recent years to open campuses in Bihar and Kerala. But AMU is a central university and hence has to follow the reservations.

    If Jamia is funded solely by muslims the issue would be different.But Jamia is almost 100% financed by govt. and in the name of a ‘minority’ institution it claims the right to deny reservations to dalits and OBCs.If JNU and DU can follow reservation norms why not Jamia which is more dependent on centre’s funding than JNU/DU. Why should there be a ‘minority’ university that reserves 50% for muslims when there is none like that for christians or Sikhs or parsis, and for that matter there is no university with ‘dalit’ tag or
    ‘tribes’ tag. Has the Jamia VC agreed to provide reservations for SCs/STs?. If not what is the reason.The plea for minority status is a ploy to run a university by muslims for muslims with 100% financial support from public money. With 50% students as muslims and most faculty from muslim community it will be easy to make it a de facto muslim university.
    VC may then insisit that sharia will be the norm and defend it in the name of minority institution’s right.


  2. what is the position of muslims in benaras hindu university. as far as i know there are hardly any muslim students or faculty. compare this with the number of muslims in the faculty and student body and then we can talk.


  3. what is the position of muslims in benaras hindu university. as far as i know there are hardly any muslim students or faculty. compare this with the number of muslims in the faculty and student body and then we can talk.

    This is factually correct but not the conclusions you draw from it. Firstly, BHU is not a minority institution. As such, it cannot discriminate in the way that minority institutions can do by reserving 50% of the seats for members of the community only. (So far as I know there are almost no “Hindu” institutions which have “minority” status. A few years back, the Ramakrishna Mission made news with its efforts to get minority status by claiming that it was not Hindu!) Secondly, in most of the IITs, IIMs and indeed, in most universities as such including the very leftist JNU, Muslims are under-represented.

    The status of Muslims in India leaves a lot to be desired and that is an understatement. The Sachar committee drew this to our attention, even though most of it was well-known. It is not clear that giving minority status to Jamia Milia Islamia [and possibly other “Islamic” institutions] will do much to address these problems. That’s just my opinion.

    However, if you are going to go down this route of “minority” status with financial support from the government, then one might as well do it for all communities. In the long run, this will only lead to ghettos. Again, just my opinion.


  4. I don’t really understand Ms. Shama Zaidi’s point. It would be helpful if she cares to elaborate a bit further on that. As far as I am concerned, the question of insufficient representation of Muslims in other institutions, including BHU, can be explained through structural factors of discrimination and insufficient competitive preparedness of Muslim students, the exact effect of each varying in different jurisdictions. In the case of structural factors the processes of appointments and admissions must be monitored in each site and proper judicial action should be taken in case of explicit instances of discrimination. But the subtext in her position, this perennial reference to BHU in matters related to AMU/Jamia, is politically problematic and seems to be a ‘binary’ from a bygone era. The question we are dealing here is the ‘minority status’ of Jamia. How does the invoking of BHU helps here is simply beyond my comprehension.


  5. Dear Khalid, While I agree with your most of your analysis, I have a serious problem with your concluding remarks about the “secularists ghetto” and Muslim elites etc. I am fed up with this argument that anyone who is against the reservation must be elitist (and you are not the only one who is saying this). Do you think that the “secular” Muslim elites are some kind of monolithic entity, and all cut-off from the ground reality? I have been observing the situation in Jamia very closely, and let me tell you that those who are religiously supporting the 50% quota are no less elitists themselves. I will obviously not give any names, but many of these are people with cushy jobs or powerful positions in the establishment. The progress of their careers (and often, vote-banks) depends on the implementation of minority status. Of course, it will benefit the poor or educationally “backward” Muslims too, but many others have their indirect stakes in it. The other question (which I raised in my earlier articles and blog – ) is that why are we so stuck with this one institution Jamia Millia? Why can’t Muslims de-centralize their claim of reservation by spreading it out to all institutions rather than just Jamia? Jamia’s quota will not address even a fraction of the recommendations made by Sachar report. Govt. will probably wash off its hands by saying “look, we’ve already given you 50% seats in Jamia – what else do you need?” One major argument often given in favour of the minority status is that the mainstream institutions are biased against Muslims, which may be true to a large extent. But my question is: by creating our own exclusive institution, do we want to bypass the prejudices in the mainstream institutions? “Let them remain communal or get even more communal, but let us create our own ideal place” – isn’t this exactly what was the motto of the 1947 Partition? To me frankly, Jamia’s minority status is nothing less than another Partition.

    (Dear Shama Zaidi, just to share the information that Banaras Hindu University has departments of Urdu, Persian and Arabic where entire faculty and most students are Muslim.)


  6. Yousef,

    Thanks for the comment. In a way, your position reminds me of that of Glenn Loury, now professor at Brown University. Glenn Loury made his initial name by critiquing affirmative action policy as it operated in the USA. His objective in doing so was to make way for a better affirmative action policy. Here, he encountered a problem. The republicans were willing to buy the first part of his argument (“Affirmative action, as it now operates is flawed.”) but not the second part (“We need a better policy.”) The democrats were simply not willing to buy the argument that there needs to be a better policy.

    I am sure you will find support for the first part of your thesis (“Giving Minority status to Jamia is a bad idea”) . You will probably find support from those you don’t particularly care for — like the Hindutvavadis. But when it comes to the second part of your thesis (“We need to have a better policy which addresses the problems of Muslims”), you will find much of the support melting away. On the other hand, those you do care for will probably not support you on the first point. Good Luck.

    Incidentally, Glenn Loury graduated from MIT. More than ten years ago, his fellow-MIT graduate, Paul Krugman, wrote an insightful piece about him which you can view here.


  7. Many thanks for your response, Yousuf Bhai. Let me begin with a broad theoretical insight and introduce the categories of ‘space’ and ‘time’ here. Broadly, I would hold that various political subjects engage with the dimensions of spatiality and temporality differently depending on how they are located within a hegemonic symbolic order. So for some, let us still call them elite, it is much more convenient to inhabit the ‘modern’, ‘universal’ or the ‘secular’ than for others. The very circumstances of life, historical memories and unfavourable location in a hegemonic order may place certain individuals and communities in temporalities that may not be captured by the dominant notions of the modern, or in spaces that are not universal, that are pejoratively called ‘ghettos’. Of course, these binaries, universal/parochial, cosmopolitan/ghetto or modern/pre-modern are all simplistic analytical devices and do not capture the entire story. So it may be possible for someone to live in a ghetto called Okhla, study in Delhi School of Economics and present a paper in Berlin. These intersections and transgressions happen all the time. That is a perennial problem with all robust categories but without them discussions also gets handicapped and does not go further at times. With that opening gloss I would like to suggest that I have two problems here: one, the simplistic conceptualisation of the space called ‘ghetto’ (you live there: you know that life sizzles there as well!), and, two, that also from a teleological vantage point of some inherent notion of what development or progress is or should be. That is my first broad response to your articulation. Let me illustrate further and indicate through a few narratives. In Okhla a few decades back a few Saifi (carpenters) families arrived from villages of Western Uttar Pradesh. In time, through hard work and savings, they were able to buy land near the main road that connects Jamia to Noida. They set up small shops where they started selling furniture (often second-hand too) and now they have set up a sort of a mini-empire. They then established their own school, a local newspaper Saifi Times and a mosque as well. Some of their members are now also getting interested in politics and diversifying and moving to other trades as well. How do these Saifis look at their own story—as failure or success? How does someone from Gulmohar Avenue, New Friends Colony or Zakir Bagh perceive them? The answers are obvious. But that is not the whole story. My erstwhile landlord, who also comes from western UP, recently sold all his property in his village to buy property in Noida. He has 6 kids, four sons and two daughters. The three older sons are all Urdu educated as are the two daughters. The eldest son, who hardly understands English, hires a translator and ensures that he makes it to the Frankfurt festival each time. My landlord, when I stayed there, used to often visit me and seek advice for his youngest son’s education. Yesterday, he called me to ask if it is possible for his youngest son to be admitted to Sardar Patel Vidyalaya or DPS, Mathura Road. I told him the admissions are almost over and there is no possibility now. To my surprise he told me that he was inquiring about the next year! How do we read these stories? Are these people modern, pre-modern, post-modern, communities-in-transition? Are they secular, progressive, backward, reactionary, ghettoised, or cosmopolitan? You see the futility of the exercise: rather than impatient lamentation, exuberance or other visceral responses to these sites and stories, I think we need to watch and listen closely. Of course, you being a film-maker would know all of that far better than me. This is the first fragment, an aside basically, that I wanted to scribble for now. I will respond to your more substantive questions as time allows.


  8. Now, coming back to your more substantive points after a personalised detour. I will summarise your main contentions for self-understanding: 1) That anti-reservation position is not strictly an elitist position, b) ‘Secular Muslim elite’ is not a monolithic category cut off from ground reality, c) Reservation for Muslim students should be decentralised and apply to all Institutions, d) If Muslims want to bypass prejudices of others they should not opt for ‘exclusive’ spaces. Let me suggest at the outset that I am not exactly a votary of ‘minority status’ for Jamia. If my text has not made that sufficiently clear then blame me for poor skills of articulation. But at the same time I also see this as an opportunity for opening the gates of democratic social transformation within the putative Muslim community for the reasons I have discussed above. My second bias is that I do not enter Muslim politics from the category ‘Muslim’ (and minority rights) but from the vantage point of the rubric ‘Pasmanda’ (and social justice). In that context, I am pitched within a war of positions (as are my intellectual adversaries) where I am as eager to seize on the points of ‘confrontation’ as the points of ‘negotiation’. That is part and parcel of any kind of politics. Thirdly, I see ‘majority’ and ‘minority’ as constructions produced by the nation-state. My bias is towards fragmenting them and creating spaces for inner voices and dialogues transcending these pigeon-holes. In short, my bias is towards democratisation of a particular kind. After this initial listing of my biases let me go straight to your third contention. It seems that you are not against reservation per se but that you only want to broaden it. Your rationale is that the demand for the ‘minority status’ exclusively for Jamia will backfire on the community and the Muslim students will be consequently discriminated in other institutions. I think your argument has a problem. Allow me to state it this way—if Muslims seek ‘minority character’ for Jamia then there is a problem that they will face discrimination in other institutions: if they seek reservations in all institutions then they will be looked down upon as ‘quota’ students and still continue to face discrimination there as well. So where does the problem lie? I would propose it lies with the significant ‘others’ who are completely insensitive to norms of social justice and minority rights. So the pedagogical gaze and didactic tone must be reserved for these ‘others’ rather than for the ‘community’! Having said that, you may be aware that there are organised forums within the community, which are working for broad-based reservations for Muslims in public sector employment and education. Why should a move for ‘minority status’ in Jamia be considered as being mutually exclusive from these larger interventions? Why the either/or frame? I think you do not offer a clue here in your piece. Also, it is irrelevant to invoke the poverty of Muslims in the context of the Jamia issue. As you would know ‘minority status’ is not premised on poverty alleviation but the cultural preservation of minorities. In that context all this discussion on the ‘revealed’ data of Sachar Committee is really meaningless. So my first charge is that the reasons you offer against the ‘minority character’ seem to be guided more by a ‘fear of the unknown’ and your emotional stake in your alma mater than by any serious rational analysis. But then I may be completely off the mark here. So let me move to point (d) now. Are not all spaces ‘exclusive’ in a sense? I mean there are no ‘neutral’ spaces: every space has its own untouchables and blue-eyed boys. Does CSDS or Sarai, to just cite an example, entertain all kinds of academics and cultural theorists? Is JNU comfortable with all kinds of ideological leanings? Is the secular social sector space all-inclusive? I don’t fancy so. They all have their metaphysical and teleological assumptions. Why is the assumption of an exclusive Muslim space really a problem? Because of the legacy and moral guilt of an event called Partition? Then we have to reread Partition and take the revisionist historiography seriously. Now point (b). Of course, the ‘secular muslim elite’ is not a monolithic category. Which category is by the way? And, obviously they are not cut-off from the ground reality. The day they will be cut off they will cease to be elite themselves. The problem is not there. The problem is to deconstruct the various hegemonic discourses they circulate to entrench their positions in various ‘sites of privilege’ (both so-called ‘secular-universal’ and so-called ‘communitarian’ spaces) and to seize on ruptures and apertures for the entry of the subaltern in the game. Point (a) now. I think your position is not anti-reservation as your contention (c) suggests. Your position is ‘against’ a particular kind of reservation (minority status in Jamia) and ‘for’ another kind (reservations for all Muslims in all educational institutions). As I mentioned I approach these questions from the vantage point of Pasmanda politics. Hence, I basically see both these moves as Muslim elite moves howsoever different they may sound. I strongly contest the articulation that the entire Muslim community is a subaltern community. I think that the ashraf community within the Muslims is not a subaltern community, as the Savarnas are not within Hindus. Of course, there are poor Syeds, as there are poor Brahmins. And, there are rich dalits, as there are rich pasmanda. But the principles of affirmative action demand much more than this. Obviously, I have my own biases as you have yours. That’s fair enough. But in this contest between ‘secular’ Muslim elite and ‘communitarian’ Muslim elite I am not siding with any of them: my purpose is clear, I am simply looking for democratic opening and spaces of manoeuvrability for those sections who I think are outside the game and have been kept involved in all kinds of ‘secular’ and ‘communitarian’ fables. My apologies for a visceral response.


  9. Dear Khalid
    While I appreciate and thank you for your articulation, I did not want to enter into a war or words. May be I was over-alarmed by your use of the word “secularist ghetto”. Your writing and thoughts are compelling, but I am trying to find simpler and practical ways to deal with this issue, something that can be made accessible to a larger audience. Not all of my thoughts were a response to your write-up but were also a thinking aloud. But with an issue like this, there are always going to be endless ways to debate. We have to see where we are ultimately heading. I appreciate that you do not want to take any sides, but I do (although the side I am taking is not necessarily a purely black-or-white one). But you may be right that it’s my emotional attachment with the alma mater which is speaking rather than a rational thinking. I know my writings are very simplistic and crude, but I am trying to reach out to a larger audience to engage them in a dialogue – this is why I also simultaneously wrote and published in Urdu. But while trying to engage with people on ground level (even in response to my write-ups), I realised that a majority of them have a problem even following what I thought were my simple arguments. So I wonder how much sense our online arguments in well-crafted English will make with the real players in the field. I apologise for not being able to respond to your specific points in detail. I would love to continue on this issue if we can discuss some practical steps on how to democratise such debates in the larger public arena where most people (including many of our policy makers) see things in black-and-white terms.


  10. “I strongly contest the articulation that the entire Muslim community is a subaltern community. I think that the ashraf community within the Muslims is not a subaltern community, as the Savarnas are not within Hindus. ”

    Dear Khalid,

    I realise that I am going to skew the discussion away from what should be the thrust so will keep this short.

    I am not so sure you are right in asserting that not all Muslims in India are subaltern, but only some of them. Making this assertion may be useful in securing legitimacy for the Pasmanda cause, but theoretically perhaps the matter may not be so cut and dry.

    Rather than seeing only one abject subaltern figure, could we not explore the idea of a chain or web of subalternities. Subalternity not being an identiarian condition, but one that depends on one’s relations with others?

    Thus the Pasmanda is more subaltern, more unable to be heard than the ashraf Muslim. However the ashraf Muslim in turn is not able to use all the counters (to invoke Bourdieu here) they are dealt with at birth. On the contrary, they are forced to use their upper caste counters, rather than just Muslim. When they do use the Muslim counter,they use it in a particular manner versus the hegemonic community in India. This is not exactly the mark of a member of an elite group.

    Both Christian and Muslim upper caste groups despite their ability to succeed within a largely Hindu India do so despite their Christian and Muslim identities. They have to nevertheless surmount this identity to move forward. This pushes them into a subaltern position of sorts.

    I’ll stop here, but look forward to your comments (and those of others)


  11. Jason, my comments on the subalternity of ashrafiya sections have been made in the context of affirmative action and policy implications and not in the affective and aesthetic domains. While I am with you on this entire debate on intersectionality or ‘web of subalternities’ as you call it, but I am only speculating if people mean different things when they invoke these frames. But my next essay is exactly on this notion of ‘subalternity of all Muslims’. I will try to address this in more detail then. For the time being I will just quit by suggesting that we look at the emergence of this notion of ‘strategic essentialism’ (Spivak) more closely.


  12. Yousuf Bhai, thanks for your quick response. I am in complete agreement with you that this debate should be made more public and should be taken outside the confines of academic engagements. I think a way needs to be evolved that would ensure that.


  13. Jason, another quick comment:

    “I am not so sure you are right in asserting that not all Muslims in India are subaltern, but only some of them. Making this assertion may be useful in securing legitimacy for the Pasmanda cause, but theoretically perhaps the matter may not be so cut and dry.”

    My tentative thought is that this question cannot be settled ‘objectively’, that is merely by dishing out facts and figures (Sachar, Ranganath), that were themselves discursively produced. And, also it is not merely about securing legitimacy for the ‘Pasmanda cause’ if you challenge the notion of ‘total Muslim backwardness’, or securing legitimacy for the ‘Muslim cause’ if you uphold it. There are wider questions of democracy and marginalisation involved that are coloured by governmentality and subaltern creativity (colonial and post-colonial). I think the question can be addressed only genealogically: as a clue I will urge us to ponder on two high points, the emergence of the articulation of total Muslim backwardness with the circulation of the findings of Hunter Commission Report in 1871 (Sumit Sarkar has a few interesting things to say on its methodology), and the dropping of Muslim upper castes from the Mandal OBC list in 1980’s. I think we need to define ‘subalternity’ first and then reflect on these two discursive ruptures in historical time. There are other high points but I will go into them in the text of my proposed essay.


  14. I think an intellectual work involves complicating a simplified position and simplifying complicated position. Seen from the vantage point of history of the evolution of Jamia the instant decision to grant it minority status appears to be distinctly unjustified legally, ethically and politically. Decision has been taken hurriedly and may have been influenced by the election consideration in many states. The basis of declaring a community as minority community by the state should be vigorously contested. On the one hand the state says that religion and state affairs should be kept apart from each other for the sake of secularism. On the other hand state declares a community as minority on the basis of their religious/linguistic affiliation. The complicated point in the controversy is the question of minority rights. Do not Muslims have the right to have their own educational institution? We should never forget that Indian society is caste based society. On this premise everything should be decided by caste consideration. When seen from caste angle there is no majority or minority group in India as there is no caste large enough to be called majority. When a caste group tries to monopolise affairs the other castes group together to thwart their attempts. We see anti-brahmins coming together in South India to challenge Brahmin monopoly. We have seen very recently in Bihar how lower castes united to frustrate the attempts of another backward caste namely Yadavas to monopolise all political space in the name of social justice. When you privilege religious identity over caste identities, we see catastrophic results. One huge, behemoth Hindu community lords over other religious communities. And who benefits from this? Obviously the upper caste groups in any religious group. What would be the brahmin if there was no majority community by the name of Hindu and what would be the ashrafs if there was no minority community by the name of Muslim? I may also put it this way: what would be the Brahmin if there was no minority group by the names of Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and Buddhists, what would be the Ashraf or upper caste group of any religious minority group if there was no majority group by the name of Hindu. Seen from this point I have no hesitation to say that the move to declare Jamia as minority institution is nothing but essentially a move to consolidate and further the interest of Ashrafia elites.


  15. “Also, if Christian minority institutions can deliver quality education after reserving seats for candidates from the Christian community why can’t the Muslims do that? I think the clue to that is the undemocratic content of the community ‘managers’ (there are no leaders there!) and institutions and their being stuck in their own time-warps. In time the democratic pressures, it is hoped, will either shake them to do a rethink or to replace them with more worthy substitutes”

    Dear Khalid, do you have the figures that should support your idea of Muslim institutions not delivering quality education(and christian institutions doing so)?

    Also, is there a stated agenda within the Jamia constitution that has declared its undemocratic stand,or are you presuming it?

    Thirdly, for all your zeal and intellectual fervor to strip JMI of its reservation, did you come to see the number of colleges or universities that have a Muslim minority status in India? Can you name even 20 across the nation?

    Fourth, I know of hundreds and thousands of schools and colleges in India that have a near clear-cut policy of zero-entry to Muslim students and staff from enrollment. A few hundred of such schools are being run or supported the RSS across many states including Karnataka, UP and Maharashtra and BIhar. Such policies of open discrimination,hateful textual references and bigotry against an specific community are being practiced by not only public schools but also by various high end elite schools in major cities of India.

    In such,I would prefer a reservation riddled JMI as being one of the few places where a minority community can realize there dreams of education and fraternity. Additionally,I would consider it my duty to speak against any attempts that try to alter the state of reservation at JMI in the name ‘horizontal’ assimilation.

    Lastly, while discussing JMI you must also try to understand the mind of the Muslim community. Our fraternity and identity is firm and well composed. We are not the ones who would melt away at the sight of democratic ideas and upward mobility. We have known our nation to practice democracy for decades and we have taken part in it as and when and in whichever way we thought it to be fit. Please do not preach :)

    Thank You


We look forward to your comments. Comments are subject to moderation as per our comments policy. They may take some time to appear.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s